Superior m.anufacturers gain a competitive advantage by methodically upgrading the strategic role of their plants abroad.

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1 Superior m.anufacturers gain a competitive advantage by methodically upgrading the strategic role of their plants abroad. Making the Most offoreign Factories by Kasra Ferdows M-.any companies are not tapping the full potential of their foreign factories. They establish and manage their foreign plants to benefit only from tariff and trade concessions, cheaplabor, capital subsidies, and reduced logistics costs. Therefore, they assign a limited range of work, responsibilities, and resources to those factories. But there are companies that expect much more from their foreign factories and, as a result, get much more out of t1:lem. They use them not only to gain access to the usual incentives but also to get closer to their customers and suppliers, to attract skilled and talented employees, and to create centers of expertise for the entire company. These DRAWINGS BY SETH JABEN 73

2 FOREIGN FACTORIES factories perform functions beyond mere production-functions such as after-sales service and product engineering. For example, Hewlett-Packard Company's factory in Guadalajara, Mexico, not only assembles computers but also designs comp-uter memory boards. 3M's operations in Bangalore, India, 3M's operations in Bangalore, India, manufacture software and write it as w~ll. It is difficult if not impossible to prove quantitatively how much any f~ctor, let alone an attitude or approach, is responsible for a company's overall success. Nevertheless, after decades of studying and working with multinationals, I am convinced that the companies that treat their foreign plants as a source of competitive advantage are rewarded in thc form of highcr market share and greater profits. Moreover, I believe that because of increasing global competition, the gap between the companies that treat their foreign plants as a source of competitive advantage and those that do not is widening. Indeed, managers with a limited view of what a formanufacture software and write that software, as well. In Singapore, workers have designed and manufactured two popular pagers for Motorola. And Alcatel Bell's factories in Shanghai are two of the most innovative plants inits worldwide manufacturing network. The difference between the two approaches lies in the way managers have answered a seemingly simple, but fundamental, question: How can a factory located outside acomp~y's home country be used as a competitive weapon n01...only in the markets that it directly serves but also in every market served by the compan)',? I have found in the research I have conducted over the past five years that if managers do not consider manufacturing to be a source of competitive advantage, they are likely to establish foreign factories with a narrow strategic scope; they then provide those factories with limited resources. In contrast, if managers regard manufacturing as a major source of competitive advantage, they generally expect their foreign factories to be highly productive and innovative, to achieve low costs, and to provide exemplary service to customers throughout the world. l Expecting More from Foreign Factories eign factory can or should achieve are falling out of step with three current realities of global business. First, declining tariffs are reducing the importance of establishing foreign factories as a means of overcoming trade barriers. Tariffs have declined worldwide from an-average of 40% in 1940 to 7% in Trade pacts-gatt, the European Union, NAFTA, Mercosur, and others - are accelerating that reduction. GATT has recently propelled governments from Indonesia to Argentina to issue their first multiyear schedules for reducing tariffs. This trend is making life difficult for factories that have owed their existence to tariff barriers. For example, faced with declining tariffs in Australia, Nissan closed its plant in Clayton, Victoria, in In addition, tariff cuts in many South American and Asian countries figured prominently in Procter & Gamble's decision to close many of the 30 plants it has shut since 1993 as part of its Strengthening Global Effectiveness program. Second, the increasing sophistication of manufacturing and product developmentand the growing importance of having world-class suppliers are causing more multinationals to place less emphasis on low wages when theyare choosing foreign manufacturing sites. According to the latest data compiled by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in 1994 ten industrialized countries - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, Australia, Holland, Belgium, and Italy - received half of the world's foreign direct investments and accounted for two-thirds of the world's accumulated stock of foreign direct investments. The largest recipient was the United States: by 1994, foreign multinationals had more than $500 billion invested in the United States, up from $80 billion in That cumulative investment nearly equaled the total amount that multinationals had invested in the world's 154 developing countries. Britain, with $214 billion, was the second-largest recipient, followed by France and Germany. None of these recipients offers cheap wages, materials, or capital costs. Clearly, leading manufacturers recognize that low wag~s,_grants,and subsidies do not necessarily mean low total cos-ts. Indeed, the low wages available in many count:!ies, Kasra Ferdows is a professor ofmanagement at Georgetown University's School of Business in Washington, D.c., where he also is codirector of the Global Logistics Research Program. He formerly served as the director of INSEAD's International Manufacturing Program. HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Mar<h-ApriJ J997

3 A source foctory develops and produces a part or a product for a company's global markets. after adjusting for productivity, Jose their attraction. For example, although manufacturing wages in India and the Philippines are much lower than those in the United States, their average manufacturing labor cost is higher after adjustments are made for productivity. When superior rrianufacturers do establish plants in developing countries, they take care to locate their factories in the areas that have the most advanced infrastructure and workers' skills rather than in the areas that offer merely the lowest wages. For example, 3M chose Bangalore as a manufacturing site. Land is more expensive and wages are higher there than in many other places in India; but Bangalore offers the advantages of skilled labor and suppliers, as well as sophisticated competitors. Similarly, Xerox chose to produce copiers and toner in Shanghai, and Motorola located its pagermanufacturing facility in the port city of Tianjin. Shanghai and Tianjin are two of China's higher-cost cities. Companies like Xerox and Motorola accept the additional cost of locating their factories in thesc places. To achieve a higher level of productivity than other companies commonly achieve, they plan to run their plants with more sophisticated production processes. Third, the pressure to transfer ideas from development to production ever more quickly and efficiently is pushing companies to forge a close working relationship between those two functions. Many companies are concentnrting production and development in the same organizational and geographical unit. This trend marks a departure from the conventional wisdom, which holds that the role of the foreign plant is to produce what has been designed and developed at corporate headquarters. Managers who adopt this view believe that because the resources needed to design and develop products are expensive, dividing them into small fragments and spreading them across multiple locations is not economical. Superior manufacturers, however, have resolved this dilemma by turning their factories into specialists. For example, acompany that makes printers might structure its manufacturing network so that one site develops and manufactures integrated circuit boards, a second power supplies, and a third toner and cartridges. Each of these units becomes HARVARD BUSfNESS REVIEW March-April

4 Charting the Strategic Roles of Foreign Factories Offshore Factory An offshore factory is established to producc spccific items at a low ost-items that are thcn exported either for further work or for salc. Investments in technical and managcrial resources are kept at the minimum required for production. Little development or engineering occurs at the site. Local managers rarely choose key suppliers or negotiate prices. Accowlting and finance staffs primarily provide data to managers in the home country. Outbound logistics arc simple and beyond the control oj the plant's management. Source Factory - The primary purpose for establis4ing a sour~e factory is low-cost product!qn, but its strategic role is broader than that of an offshore factory. Its managers have greater authority over procurement (including the selection of suppliersi, production planning, process changes, outbound logistics, and product-customization and redesign decisions. A source factory has the same ability to produce a product or a part as the best factory in the company's global network. Sourcefactories tend to be locatedinplaces whereproduction costs are relatively low, infrastructure is relatively developed, and a skilled workforce is available. Sc.rver Factory A server factory supplies specific national or rekionai markcts. It typically provides a way to overcome.tariff barriersand toreducetaxes, logistics COStS, orexposure to foreign-exchange fluctuations. Although it has relatively more autonomy than an offshore plant to make minor modifications in products and production methods to fit local conditions, its authority and competence in this arca are vcry limited. Contributor Factory A contributor factory also serves a specific national or rekional ri!.arke!, but its responsibilities extend to product and process engineering as well as to the development and choice of suppl~rs. A contrihutor factory competes with the company's home plants to be the testing growld for new proce s technologies, computer systcms, and products. It has its own development, engineering, and production capabilities. A contributor factory also has authority over procurement decisions and participates in the choice of key suppliers for the company. Outpost Factory An outpost factory's primary_role is to collect informatinn. Such a factory is placed in an area where advanced suppliers J competitors, research_laboratories, or customers are locate,d. Because every factory obviously must make products and have markets to serve, virtually all outpost factories have a secondary strategic role-as a server or an offshor~,for example. Lead Factory A lead factory creates new proc~ses,e!9ducts,and technologies for the entire c0uu>any. This type of factory taps into local skills and technologi~a1 resources not only to collect data for headquarters but also to transform the kn0'hledge that it gathers into useful products and processes. Its managers have a decisive voice in the choice otkey suppliers and often participate in joint development work witluupplicrs. Many of its employees Slay in dircct contact with end customers, machincry supplicrs, rcsearch laboratories, and other centers of knowledge; theyajso initiate innovations frequently. the custodian of specialized development and manufacturing knowledge for the entire company. Why spn::ad these specialized units around the globe? Why not keep them in one location or close to one another? Why not keep them in the home country? Because a company would miss opportunities to collect and digest the expertise that other regions have to offer. A ceramics producer operating a factory in New York's "Ceramic VaJley," the area around Corning where many companies in the ceramics industry are located, is bound to learn more about the latest advances in technology than a producer that operates elsewhere. For simi- 76 lar reasons, a manufacturer of medical instruments is likely to benefit from having a factory in Minnesota's"Medical Lane" ncar the Mayo Clinic; a maker of watches or watch components from having a factory in the area of Switzerland and France around Jura; and a textile machinery producer from having a factory in northern Italy. Defining the Six Strategic Roles Becaust: t:ach foreign factory inevitably has its own unique history and chajlenges, articulating its strategic role can be_9lfficult. Classifying the differ- HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW March-April 1997

5 FOREIGN FACTORIES gional markets. A contributor factory both serves a local market and assumes responsibility for product customization, process improvements, product modifications, or product development. An OlltpoSt factory is established primarily to gain access to the knowledge or skills that the company needs. Finally, a lead factory has the ability and knowledge to innovate and create new processes, products, and technologies for the eompany. Some factories combine two or more of these roles. For instance, a factory may be a server for a specific region and an offshore site for the production of certain components. Indeed, any type of facent roles can help reduce this complexity. Start by answering two basic questions about each factory: What is the primary strategic reason for the factory's location? and What is the scope of its current activities? Based on the answers to these questions, managers can use a framework I developed to categorize plants and to determine how to expand their roles. (See the insert "Charting the Strategic Roles of Foreign Factories.") According to this framework, foreign factories can fall into any of six categories. An offshore factory is established to gain access to low wages or other factors integral to low-cost production. Its responsibilities are limited to the low-cost production of specific items that are then exported either for further work or for sale. Such a factory is not expected to be innovative; its managers follow the instructions, methods, and plans handed down to A factory may be a server for a specific region and an offshore site for specific components. them; and they rely on others to provide the expertise in new processes, products, and technologies. A SOUIce factory also is established to gain access to low-cost production; but unlike an offshore factory, it has the resources and the expertise to develop and produee a part or a product for the company's global markets. A server factory is a production site that supplies specific national or re Q>.. c! Q> a. E ~ Q>.'1: III tory may have a secondary strategic role - such as providing an operational hedge against currency risks, acting as an alternate souree of supply for a critical component, or preempting competitors in a national or regional market. Nevertheless, this simple framework is helpful in articulating the strategic contributions of most foreign factories. Determining the Strategic Role After assessing each factory's current role, the next step is to determine the future role that the company's leaders would like each to play. Sometimes internal events drive the decision to change a factory's role. For example, a merger adds new factories to the network; the product mix ehanges; or other factories in the company's global network become bigger or smaller. At other times, external events drive the need for change. For example, as thc details of the 19Y2 European Union were unfolding in the late 1980s, manufacturers that had plants scattered across many European countries were forced to question why they needed so many server factories; and those that had plants in only a few countries were forced to ask how they were going to supply new markets or cope with new competitors in their existing markets. Today Mercosur and NAFTA are raising similar questions for manufacturers in South America and North America. More subtle external factors also may create the need for change. Inereasing wages, declining tariffs, The Roles of Foreign Factories: A Strategic Matrix Low Access 10 low-eost production Access to skills and knowledge Strategic Reason for the Site Proximity to market HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW March April

6 FOREIGN FACTORIES and a growing local market may prompt a company to turn an offshore factory into a server. For example, European and U.S. electronics manufacturers turned some offshore factories in Malaysia into servers after increases in Malaysian wages had reduced their production cost advantage and growing local demand had provided an alternative to the European and North American markets. In contrast, the rising productivity, product quality, and dependability uf a factory in China, combined with low wages and guvernment incentives to export, may prompt a company to turn a servcr factory originally built to supply the Chinese market into an offshore factory for supplying low-cost components to other markets. A company's business strategy should determine the decision to change a factory's strategic role. I devised a strategic matrix to help managers visualize such changes. (See the exhibit "The Roles of Foreign Factories: A Strategic Matrix.") In order to increase manufacturing's strategic contribution, a company generally must upgrade the role of its foreign factories, moving them up the matrix. Alternatively, it may choose to keep a given factory in its current role, to move it horizuntally across the matrix (from source to contributor, for example), to move it down the matrix, or, if it is already at the bottom of the matrix, to close or divest it. Different moves present differcnt challenges. In the easiest case, a factory is in a low positionan offshore, an outpost, or a server - and remains there. Almost every foreign factory starts in the lower part of the mauix. And some companies, for sound reasons, keep many of their factories in those positions. Coca-Cola Company, for example, has many bottling plants that are servers and are likely to remain in that role. Because of high transportation costs, Coca-Cola will always need hundreds of bottling plants around the wurld, each of which serves a relatively small geographic market. These plants receive cuncentrated Coke syrup and, following specific methods and adhering to strict standards, add water and other ingredients to make the final product. Even minor adjustments in the formula to adapt the product to local tastes require approval from regional or corporate headquarters. Of course, a plant kept in a limited strategic role may still have to improve its performance. Indeed, good A server factory supplies specific national or regional markets. 78 HARVARD BUSINESS REVlEW March-April 1997

7 Paths to Higher Strategic Roles + Become globol hub for product or process knowledge + Supply globol merkets.. Assume responsibility for product development + Moke product-improvement recommendations Lead t Contributor + Assume responsibility for process development + Assume responsibility for the development of suppliers + Make process-improvement recommendations + Assume responsibility for procurement ond locol logistics + Maintain technical processes + Assume responsibility for production 7' OHshore Access to low-cost production Outpost Access to skills ond knowledge Primary Strategic Reason for the Site Proximity to morket manufacturers are relentless in their quest for improving the quality, cost efficiency, dependability, and flexibility of all their production operations no matter their strategic scope. Moving a plant horizontally across the matrix usually requires a substantial overhaul of its organization, control systems, and equipment. A major European pharmaceuticals company discovered just that when it decided to change the role of a plant in Turkey. The factory had been operating as a server. The company, however, decided in the early 1990s that it wanted the plant to operate as an offshore as well and produce some drugs for export. It quickly became clear that the factory needed new equipment to meet the packaging and labeling requirements of different European countries. Its fairly rudimentary outbound logistics system had to be redesigned completely; its cost accounting methods had to be changed to conform to the methods used in the rest of the company; and new channels of communication with sales offices in other countries had to be developed, which required improving the staff's foreign language skills. Upgrading the Strategic Role Moving a plant up the matrix means giving it a broader, upgraded strategic role in the company's network of factories. Superior manufacturers have a larger portion of their global factories in_the higher source, contributor, and lcad positio!.j.s than average manufacturers do. The challenges involved in upgrading a plant are substantial. But the rewards are substantial, too. Indeed, it often takes years and a tremendous investment of resources for factories to ascend to these positions; but these plants ultimately provide their companies with a formidable strategic advantage. (See the exhibit "Paths to Higher Strategic Roles."I Consider Hewlett-Packard's successful plant in Singapore, which was established in 1970 as an offshore plant. It took about a decade and the investment of substantial resources for the factory to become a source plant for calculators and keyboards, and another decade for it to assume a lead position for keyboards and inkjct printers. (Sec the insert "How Hewlett-Packard Upgraded the Strategic Role ofits Factory in Singapore."I Even though factories may start at different positions on the matrix, the managerial approaches to upgrading their strategic roles have several imperatives in common: Focus on the intangible benefits. Each company has its unique reasons for manufacturing outside its home country. (See the exhibit "Why Manufacture Abroad?") Some benefits-such as a reduction in labor, capital, and logistics costs - are tangible and easy to measure; others - such as learning from foreign research centers, customers, and suppliersare intangible and difficult to measure. HARVARD BUSINESS REVlEW March-Aprill997 79

8 A contributor factory both serves a local market and assumes responsibility for product customizat!an, process improvements, product modifications, or ~rodud develapm.ent. How a company treats the intangible benefits says a great deal about the role of manufacturing in its corporate strategy. If manufacturing plays a negligible strategic role, the tangible benefits usually dominate the decision to manufacture abroad. As a company upgrades the strategic role of its manu- Why Manufacture Abroad? Most tangible Most intangible Reduce direct and indirect costs Reduce capitol costs Reduce taxes Reduce logistics costs Overcome tariff barriers Provide better customer service Spread foreign exchange risks Build alternative supply sources Preempt potential competitors Learn from local suppliers learn From Foreign customers Learn from competitors learn from Foreign research centers AHrad talent globally facturing operations, however, it stresses the intangibles more. Consider Lego, the Danish toy maker. Many U.S. toy makers have moved their factories from Japan to Taiwan to Singapore to Thailand and now to China, attracted by the marginal cost advantages in those countries. In contrast, Lego has continued to produce most of its toys and molds in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. Why hasn't Lego moved its production to IQw-cost countries? The answer lies in the way it treats the intangible benefits of locatign. Lego depends on its factories to develop unique capabilities in injection moldigg and mold design and to advance the company's knowledge orplastic materials. Highly industrialized countries that uffer skilled technicians, sophisticated suppliers, research centers, and universities allow Lego to- accomplis~ those ends more easily. It is hard to argue against opting for immediate, tangible henefits by promising probable, intangible benefits in the future. But more attention to the intangibles can launch a factory on a path to expanding the scope of its capabilities. 82 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW M3'ch-AprU 19Y7

9 FOREIGN FACTORIES Cultivate competencies. At HP, managers of the Singapore factory knew that the company's leaders expected them to expand the factory's competencies and to upgrade its strategic role. Similar expectations made it possible for the managers of NCR's factory in Dundee, Scotland, and Sony's factory in Bridgend, Wales, to upgrade their strategic roles. The NCR plant started in the 1960s as a server for a variety of products, such as mainframe computers and cash registers. Like many other traditional foreign plants, it stayed in the server position for years. But in the early 1980s, it embarked on a new path that moved it into a contributor position for automated teller machines by the mid-1980s and E stablished in the 1960s to serve Western Europe, NCR's factory in Dmidee, Scotland, had by the early 1990s turned itself into a world;class manufacturer of automated teller machiqes. Since then, thefactory has helped the company maint1!in its number one position in the worldwide ATM market. At the end of the 1970s, thefactory seemed doomed. NCR's plants in the Dundee area had plummeted from six, with a combined workforce of 6,000, to one, with a workforce of 700. The remaining factory, which made such products as mainframe computers and cash registers, was vertically integrated and unfocused. Then in the early 1980s, like many beleaguered multinationals, NCR restructured itself along husiness units. The company's leaders challenged its plants to become world class manufacturers. The mandate was clear: help cre ate businesses that are competitive on a worldwide scale or face closure. Dundee aimed to become number one in the self-service banking-transaction business. Dundee's managers established two priorities: upgrade manufacturing performance and speed up the product-development cycle. By the mid-1980s, both initiatives were in full swing. To improve manufacturing performance, the factory launched total quality management, just-in-time procurement and production, cell production, and a variety of other continuous-improvement programs. It also started to develop FROM SERVER TO LEAD: NCR IN DUNDEE, SCOTLAND into a lead position for ATMs by the early 1990s. (See the insert "From Server to Lead: NCR in Dundee, Scotland.") The Sony plant in Bridgend started in 1974 as a server, supplying television sets and components to Europe. By the mid-1980s, it had expanded its role to contributor; and it continues to become a still stronger and more effective contributor. (See the insert "From Server to Contributor: Sony in Bridgend, Wales.") A factory's long journey up the matrix requires the development of a variety of competencies that are acquired in three stages. Stage 1: Improving the Inside. Many companies demand continuous improvement in their faetocloser relationships with local suppliers. To speed up product development, it built up a strong R&D depart. ment. IBy 1990, 250 of its 1,400 employees were in R&D.) The factory also created a special competence in developing new products and ramping up their production quickly. By 1985, Dundee had become more efficient and had expanded its strategic role. Once a mediocre server, the plant had transformed itself into an effective contributor. It was a second source for the dcvelopment and production of ATMs not only for the European market but also for markets worldwide. Throughout the last years of the 1980s, Dundee continued its push to improve its manufactur ing and product-development capabilities. Self financing its growth, it established closer links to end customers lit visited bankers and had them visit Dundee!; local educational establishments (it funded a department of mechatronics, or mechanical and electronic engineering, at the University of Dundee, for example!; and suppliers (80% qf supplies came from local sources). By 1990, Dundee had be come NCR's lead plant for ATMs, with primary responsibility for developing and manufacturing the products that the billion-dollar business needed. The plant continued to play this role after AT&T's acquisition of NCR in the early 1990s, and it promises to be one of the pillars of the newly independent company that AT&Tspun off in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW March.April

10 S ony built a new factory in Bridgend, Wales, in Pursuing a strategy that its ch~irlllall, Akio Morita, called "global localization" Ithat is, thinking globally when making local decisions!, Sony had given the plant a charter to product:. television sets and components for the European market. Bridgend started as a server plajlt, buying many subassemblies from Sony in Japan. At that time, critics assumed it was one of the so-called scre,wdriver assembly facto- ries that Japanese manufacturers were establishing in foreign countries to overcome trade barriers. But the plant would prove that it was much more thall a limited assembly plant. In the plant's early years, quality was a concern. So the plant embarked on a program of improvement that would lead eventually to a zero-defect campaign. By the early 1980s, the plant had invested in quaii ty-management and education programs and had installed the most up-to-date production processes and systems, including justin-time manufacturing supported hy manufacturing resource planning IMRP Ill. Bridgend also stepped up its efforts to reduce its dependence on Sony Japan by producing more parts itself and purchasing more from European suppliers. In 1986, it extended its zero-defect program to suppliers. Close cooperation with its 140 suppliers enabled the factory to institute a "no incoming inspection" policy for their parts in By then, European-made parts comprised nearly 90% of the content of its products; the mechanical parts the factory used came from the United Kingdom-primarily from Wales..ROMSERVER TO CONTRIBUTOR: SONY IN BRIDGEND, WALES The Bridgend factory also worked on customizing product design for the European market. Ln 1984, as part of an effort to strengthen its design capahility, it introduced four common platforms for 80 different models of television sets. Sony a.lso set up a local engineering-and-development facility in the same year. Within three years, loca.l people comprised all the fulltime staff. By 1988, 185 engineers were working in the planta large number, considering that the site employed a total of 1,500 people. The engineers worked on design and development projects for six months and then produced the new designs in the next six months- a cycle that meshed with the cycle of television sales. In the first, quiet part of the year, the engineers and many other employees focused on developing and learning how to manufacture new models. By the time the sales cycle started to climb to its November peak, the entire staff - including the engineers - began focusing on production. While the factory was ramping up production, engineers learned valuable lessons about designing products so that they could be manufactured more easily and inexpensively, and with fewer defects. Engineers then could put those lessons into practice when they developed new models. Since 1988, the plant has designed and developed most of the productsit has.q!odueed. Today it exports more than three-quarters of ths 200 models it produces. It continues to be a strong and valuable contributor plant in Sony's global n,:!work. ries' performancc. Thc ways in which factories can enhance their performance inelude improving thc plant's physical layout, machinery, work design, ami production quality; providing employee training and education; instituting innovative work processes, such as cells and self-managed teams; and adopting computer-assisted manufacturing and just-in-time production processes. If a factory is not improving internally as fast as it should, then its strategic role will probably be downgraded. An offshore, outpost, or server in such a position is not likely to survive in the long run. 84 In contrast, improved production efficiency and quality usually permit a plant to take on bigger assigiilllenrs; and managers of high-performing factories naturally want to expand their influence beyond their factories' walls.. Stage 2: Developing External Resources. Moving up the matrix from offshore, outpost, or server roles to either source or contributor roles requires developing additional competencies. While HT"s factory in Singapore was improving the management of its workforce, equipment, and production techniques, it also started to pay more attention to the way it HARVARD nusiness REVIEW March-April 1997

11 FOREIGN FACTORIES worked with parties outside the factory. HP's success in reducing costs, particularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, hinged on overhauling its group of suppliers located in and outside Singapore and on requiring them to deliver on a just-in-time basis. The NCR factory in Dundee increased its locally supplied items from 50% in the rnid-1980s to 80% in the late 1980s; and the Sony factory in Bridgend started out impurting many cumponents from suppliers in Japan but gradually develuped its uwn supplier base in Europe. The managers of those plants also realized that achieving ongoing cost reductions would require changes in product design. For example, Sony's Bridgend factory designed and developed four common platforms for the various television systerns used in Europe. NCR's Dundee plant redesigned major sections of the teller machines it built to make them easier to manufacture. And HP's Singapure factory reduced the numher of components in its caleulators by redesigning the product, including its application-specific integrated circuits. To tackle these challenges, the factories had to expand their internal and their external capabili- tics. In order to develop direct lines of communication to R&D centers inside their companies, as well as tics to vendors of new technologies outside their companies, they had to add development engineers and technicians to their staffs. They also had to develop logistics skills so that they could take and fulfill orders from retailers, distributors, and, in some cases, end customers located in several different countries. They had to develop the capacity to answer customers' inquiries, to receive orders in several languages and from incompatihle computer systems, tu arrange internatiunal shipments, and to handle an expanded number uf mudels and parts. Stage 3: Taking on a Global Mandate. Moving into a lead position requires competencies that gu beyond those needed for a company's current production operations; it reqnires the ability to generate new knowledge for the company's future manufacturing activities. To become a lead factory, the HP plant not only had to develop the ability to design and manufacture inkjet printers but also had to transform itself into a global center of knowledge about the printers for the entire company. Similarly, the NCR plant had to go beyond merely An outpost factory provides access to the knowledge or skills that a company needs. HARVARD BUSINESS REVlEW Ma,ch April

12 A lead factory creates new processes, products, and technologies. being an efficient producer of ATMs; it also had to learn how to develop and manufacture the next generation of the devices and transform itself into the custodian of that expertise for the company. Instead of focusing primarily on pruning overhead costs, these factories focused on growth. They created and refined new products and processes that had a broad impact on their companies' competitiveness. To that end, managers at these factories constantly sought to expand their pool of skilled employees. They continuously added such people as process and development engineers, sales and lab technicians, computer experts, logistics managers, human resource professionals, quality managers, and cost accountants. The atmosphere inside the factories was dynamic, engagilig, and challenging - precisely the conditions that attract highly qualified individuals. Because it entails a substantial investment of time and resources, as well as changes in a factory's culture and management style, the decision to upgrade a factory to a lead position should not be made lightly. It demands a serious commitment by both corporate and plant management. 86 Create a robust network. Plant closures, major shifts of production from one country to ariother, and buying and selling plants are all expensive. Such factors lead to instability in a company's global network of plants and make it difficult for the average foreign plant to develop the competencies it needs to upgrade its strategic role. How can a company avoid such instability? Superior manufacturers do it by creating robust networks. A robust network is one that can cope with changes in the competitive environment without resorting to extreme measures. For example, as currencies fluctuate, a company with a less robust network would shift production among its factories rapidly and dramatically in order to keep its production costs down. A company in which manufacturing plays a negligible strategic role expects little from a factory beyond, say, low-cost production and, as a result, invests little in the plant. In contrast, a superior manufacturer invests more in its factory and expects more benefits from the factory's smooth operation; typically, the factory is better at coping with adverse competitive conditions. As a result, the savings from switching production are HARVARD nuslness REVIEW March-Apnl 1997

13 FOREIGN FACTORIES smaller for the superior manufacturer, and the benefits from not switching are greater. in short, such manufacturers are far less trigger-happy than manufacturers with less robust networks. A robust network by definition contains many factories in upgraded strategic roles (sources, contributors, and leads). The more robust the network, the more secure the networ~. Security is a necessary condition for cultivating the development of a site's competencies, which in turn allows the factory to expand its strategic role and its ability to deal with adverse condition~. And the cycle continues. Nurturing Growth Abroad What are the guidelines for a company tqat wishes to gct more from its foreign factories? To start, rcview periodically the strategic role of each plant in the global network. As part of this assessment, construct a map of the existing network and the current roles of each factory, and comparc it with a map of the desired network based on the company's evolving business strategy. Such a comparison is likely to reveal gaps in the network Ifor example, which factory will supply the planned expansion into the East Asian market) and scenarios for changes in the roles of existing factories. More important than these periodic checkups is what one does between them. The most critical task is to increase the capacity of foreign factories to absorb and create knowledge. Technicians, engineers, designers, as well as experts in such areas as procurement, logistics, and quality help a forcign factory accomplish that task. It is no coincidence that superior manufacturers distribute more of their technical resourccs around the globe. Maintaining a critical mass of precious resources in one location while at the same time avoiding a duplication of work within the network can present managers with a dilem!tia. The solution lies in specialization. Whenever feasible, a foreign factory's ultimate mission should include dcveloping a worldelass specialty. it is not always necessary to specify the exact nature of the specialty for each factory; specifying a tentative direction or area of growth is often sufficient. Top-level managers should draw up broad guidelines, give factories a chance to cxpand their capabilities, and ensure that there is no major duplication of work within the network. For their part, each plant's managers should focus on cultivating the appropriate site competence - whether that mcans manag- ing internal operations more efficicntly or building external resources or taking on a global mandate. Of course, it's the responsibility of the company's leaders to make sure that each forcign plant has managers with the appropriate skills. While the factory is playing one of the lower strategic roles and management is focused on improving the operations inside the factory, a specialist from headquartcrs is the most suitable plant manager. But when the factory's role is being upgraded and the focus shifts to the management of suppliers, customers, and others outside the factory, then someone with a more general management background who is familiar with local conditions is more appropriate_ An upgraded server or a contributor plant needs a manager with superior local knowledge, including proficiency in the local language; a sourc~ plant needs a manager with the technical expertise required to optimize the plant's performance; and a lead plant needs a manager who not only has a deep tcchnical background and is familiar with the local conditions but also knows the company intimately. A careful plan for the recruitment, development, and assignment of managers to foreign factories must always accompany the plans for upgrading the role of manufacturing. Nurturing the growth of foreign plants demands a commitment sustained over many years, especially on the part of corporate management. There are many obstacles and temptations along the way. first, many managers fear relying on a foreign factory for a critical skill, and they impose a ceiling on how far a foreign factory can develop. Second, the tradition of treating a foreign factory as a cost center can turn it into a cash cow and deprive it of the investment it needs to elevate itself. Superior manufacturers know that the journey of improvemcnt is taken step by step, and every new step requires A foreign plant's journey of improvement is taken step by step, and every new step. requires more resources. more resources. Third, the urge to shift production in direct response to fluctuations in the value of foreign currencies is often hard to resist and creates instability for a fordgn plant's management. fourth, alluring government incentives that attempt to convince companies to locate their plants far from HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW March-April

14 FOREIGN FACTORIES centers of technulugy, sophisticated markets, or advanced suppliers can be difficult to ignore. Overcoming such obstacles is difficult during ordinary times; and during a period of downsizing, become a lead. But they stack the deck in a way that gives their plants a fighting chance to move in that dire_ctiqn. Superior manufacturers are convinced that a foreign factory can be a potent strategic asset. the task is daunting. Far from headquarters, managers of foreign factories often fecl particularly vul ownl:c.l by tcn IMgC multinational manufacturing comp:j.nie.c;: Apple, Digi I. My research includes.:1 four-year swdy of the role of fureign hlctoncs nerable when the company engages in aggressive t;ll Equipment, ElccLro!ux, Ford, Hewlclt.P:lckard, Hyd.ro Aluminum, IBM, Olivetti, Philips, and Sony. My observations l.md conclusions also uutsourcing and other cost-cutting campaigns. a.re based on my wurk ;,IS a consultant to 12 large multinational m:mufncturing comp:lnic" <lno on data [rom scv(,l"ul surveys that I hdpcd cljnuuct. Valuable momentum built over several years ean Thuse surveys includcd a Questionnaire 3hom the configl.lnltion of the easily be destroyed by a wrong signal from the top. gloh:ll m<lnuf;icltlring networks of companit:s in the pharm3ccutlcals, The real mastery of superior manufacturers is food-proccsstn~,and paper-m3chinery industries. They also included lhe Global Manufacturing Futures Surveys, a scries of biannual surveys of the their ability to overcome these ohstacles and maintain an environment conducive to growth. They ica, Europe, and Japan that BostOn Univcrsity, INSEAD, :Jnd W:lseda management practiccs of some 600 Inrge manufacturers in Nurth Amer Univcrsity h:jvc been conducting silh.:t: nurture such an environment because it is profitable. Not everyone of their fureign factories has to Reprint To order reprints, see the last page uf this issue.,., "..' ". ON THIS 51TE:- WIL.L. BE EREC.TED A '+7-SToR'j ToWER BA5E::D 0'" A BEST SELLING NOVEL Al30UT A/... LolIE AND '5ETP-A'I 88 CARTOON BY P.e. VEY

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